Younger Myanmar Military Officers Promoted to Key Roles in Reshuffle

By Htet Naing Zaw 11 May 2020

NAYPYITAW—Several younger Myanmar military officers ranging in rank from colonel to major general earned promotions in a recent reshuffle of the armed forces’ top brass.

The commander of the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw)’s Central Command, Major General Kyaw Swar Lin, who graduated from the 35th intake of the Defense Services Academy, was promoted to lieutenant general. At 49, he is the youngest person ever to hold the rank in the Myanmar military.

He was also appointed quartermaster general, succeeding Lieutenant General Nyo Saw, who has retired. Former Lt-Gen Nyo Saw graduated from the 23rd intake of the Defense Services Academy, and served as the commandant of the Defense Services Technological Academy and the Defense Services Academy, as well as commander of the central and southern commands.

The retired lieutenant general, who according to Tatmadaw sources is a favorite of Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, remains joint chairman of the Tatmadaw-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation.

Brigadier General Ko Ko Oo, a commanding officer at the Naypyitaw Command, has been promoted to take over from Major General Kyaw Swar Lin as head of Central Command, and will be succeeded by Colonel Wai Lin Ko, currently Kawthoung tactical commander at the Coastal Region Command, who has been promoted to brigadier general.

Brigadier General Saw Than Hlaing of the 12th Military Operations Command, a graduate of the 37th intake of the Defense Services Academy, has been promoted to commander of Coastal Region Command, replacing Major General Thaung Htike Shwe, who becomes commander of the Naypyitaw Command. He was formerly the commandant of the Defense Services Academy.

Outgoing Naypyitaw Command chief Maj-Gen Myint Maw has retired after being promoted to lieutenant general. He graduated from the 27th intake of the Defense Services Academy and also served as commandant of the Defense Services Academy. He has good ties with reporters based in Naypyitaw.

Political scientist and former military officer Dr. Aung Myo said military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing is behind the generation-skipping promotions, which he said are aimed at ensuring he retains his influence in the military for the 10 years in which his successor is likely to hold the position. That 10-year period will be divided into two five-year terms.

Former Quartermaster General Lt-Gen Nyo Saw, who has retired. / Htet Naing Zaw / The Irrawaddy

“Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has done this to make sure the military is under the control of a leader whom he can influence for the next two five-year terms. So he has given promotions to younger officials and left out older ones,” Dr. Aung Myo said.

If a new commander-in-chief is appointed after the election due to be held in November this year, a younger officer who can hold the position for two terms is likely to be appointed as the next military chief, he suggested.

“Unlike [former military regime leader] U Than Shwe, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing can’t retain his position for as long as he wishes. Then, U Than Shwe was the sole authority. But now, there will be criticism if Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing holds on to his position,” he said.

A former military officer from Naypyitaw who spoke on condition of anonymity suggested that Bureau of Special Operations 2 chief Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun, aged 54, was a likely candidate to become the next military chief, with recently promoted Lt-Gen Kyaw Swar Lin as his deputy.

The two reportedly served together as senior and junior in Rakhine State.

“Ko Kyaw Swar Lin was promoted over his senior commanders. The quartermaster general position is not a big deal, but lieutenant general is a really big position,” the former military officer said.

Before the 2010 general elections, then military chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe conducted a similar reshuffle, asking then generals Thura Shwe Mann, Thein Sein and a number of lieutenant generals to retire and contest the election, and giving promotions to several commanders.

Min Aung Hlaing, who was then a Lt-Gen and Chief of the General Staff (Army, Navy and Air) was promoted to general, while Soe Win, then a major general and chief of the Northern Command, was promoted to lieutenant general.

When U Thein Sein became president of the quasi-civilian government after the 2010 general elections, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing was appointed military chief with Lt-Gen Soe Win named as his deputy and promoted to vice senior general.

At that time Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing was just 55 and Vice Senior General Soe Win was around 50.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who is now 64, turned 60 in 2016, but did not retire and extended his position, as permitted under military law. It is not clear if the National League for Democracy government approved his extension, or whether he can extend his position further.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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